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The Role of Simplification and Information in College Decisions: Results from the H&R Block FAFSA Experiment

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  • Eric P. Bettinger
  • Bridget Terry Long
  • Philip Oreopoulos
  • Lisa Sanbonmatsu

Abstract

Growing concerns about low awareness and take-up rates for government support programs like college financial aid have spurred calls to simplify the application process and enhance visibility. This project examines the effects of two experimental treatments designed to test of the importance of simplification and information using a random assignment research design. H&R Block tax professionals helped low- to moderate-income families complete the FAFSA, the federal application for financial aid. Families were then given an estimate of their eligibility for government aid as well as information about local postsecondary options. A second randomly-chosen group of individuals received only personalized aid eligibility information but did not receive help completing the FAFSA. Comparing the outcomes of participants in the treatment groups to a control group using multiple sources of administrative data, the analysis suggests that individuals who received assistance with the FAFSA and information about aid were substantially more likely to submit the aid application, enroll in college the following fall, and receive more financial aid. These results suggest that simplification and providing information could be effective ways to improve college access. However, only providing aid eligibility information without also giving assistance with the form had no significant effect on FAFSA submission rates.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15361.

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Date of creation: Sep 2009
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Publication status: published as Role of Information and Simplification in Access The FAFSA Experiment Bettinger, Eric, B. T. Long, Philip Oreopoulos, and Lisa Sanbonmatsu. (2012) “The Role of Application Assistance and Information in College Decisions: Results from the H&R Block FAFSA Experiment.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 127(3).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15361

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  1. Beshears, John & Laibson, David I. & Madrian, Brigitte C. & Choi, James J., 2012. "Simplification and Saving," Scholarly Articles 9925399, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  2. John Beshears & James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian, 2006. "The Importance of Default Options for Retirement Savings Outcomes: Evidence from the United States," NBER Working Papers 12009, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Dynarski, Susan & Scott-Clayton, Judith, 2006. "The Cost of Complexity in Federal Student Aid: Lessons from Optimal Tax Theory and Behavioral Economics," Working Paper Series rwp06-013, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  4. Susan Dynarski, 2002. "The Behavioral and Distributional Implications of Aid for College," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(2), pages 279-285, May.
  5. Dynarski, Susan, 2000. "Hope for Whom? Financial Aid for the Middle Class and Its Impact on College Attendance," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 53(n. 3), pages 629-62, September.
  6. Currie, Janet, 2004. "The Take-Up of Social Benefits," IZA Discussion Papers 1103, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Christopher Avery & Thomas J. Kane, 2004. "Student Perceptions of College Opportunities. The Boston COACH Program," NBER Chapters, in: College Choices: The Economics of Where to Go, When to Go, and How to Pay For It, pages 355-394 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Christopher Cornwell & David B. Mustard & Deepa J. Sridhar, 2006. "The Enrollment Effects of Merit-Based Financial Aid: Evidence from Georgia's HOPE Program," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(4), pages 761-786, October.
  9. Neil S. Seftor & NSarah E. Turner, 2002. "Back to School: Federal Student Aid Policy and Adult College Enrollment," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 37(2), pages 336-352.
  10. Susan M. Dynarski, 2003. "Does Aid Matter? Measuring the Effect of Student Aid on College Attendance and Completion," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 279-288, March.
  11. Susan Dynarski, 2000. "Hope for Whom? Financial Aid for the Middle Class and Its Impact on College Attendance," NBER Working Papers 7756, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Dynarski, Susan M. & Scott–Clayton, Judith E., 2006. "The Cost of Complexity in Federal Student Aid: Lessons from Optimal Tax Theory and Behavioral Economics," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 59(2), pages 319-56, June.
  13. Christopher M. Cornwell & David B. Mustard & Deepa Sridhar, 2005. "The Enrollment Effects of Merit-Based Financial Aid: Evidence from Georgia's HOPE Scholarship," HEW 0501002, EconWPA.
  14. Terry Long, B.Bridget, 2004. "How have college decisions changed over time? An application of the conditional logistic choice model," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 121(1-2), pages 271-296.
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